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Archive for November, 2008

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving Feast and family and friend reunions, enjoy this part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

 

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We love broccoli. It’s so good and delivers great taste and terrific nutrients to promote good health. You can tell just by looking at it! The best, freshest broccoli has such a deep green color, tinged with purple. It’s a visual as well as a culinary treat. Have I won any converts? 

Perhaps those who confess to hating broccoli were forced, as children, to eat broccoli, boiled to sulfury excess, the broccoli, not the children. It should be steamed or sauteed, or even eaten raw, as it is often served in a vegetable tray as an hors d’oeuvre. Some people prefer to blanch the broccoli for a minute and then to refresh it in ice water instead of serving it raw. 

Sauteed with garlic slivers it is delicious. Steamed and garnished with grated parmesan it is delightful. Served with cheese sauce it is dreamy and rich. Added to a stir-fry it is de-lovely. Let’s face it. It’s versatility makes it doggone essential in a well-stocked kitchen. Toss it in a salad. Make it into a soup, or a vegetable on the side use it for a vehicle for delivering creamy dips to the mouth! 

I’m going overboard here, I realize. So, without further ado, I offer an idea for a make-ahead vegetable casserole using broccoli or cauliflower, or both combined, as their tastes are much the same, cauliflower being a bit more delicate, perhaps. 

(To make it ahead, prepare it up to baking it in the oven, step 5. Cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake. Add 10-15 minutes to the baking time, or bring to room temperature before baking, uncovered.)

BROCCOLI GRATIN

1 large bunch of broccoli, 2 pounds or so

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 c. milk, whole if you can spare the fat and calories, lower fat if necessary

salt and pepper to taste

1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, you can grate your own if you wish

1 cup grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, or gruyere, whatever you prefer)*

bread crumbs, optional

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350-375 degrees.

2. Break up the broccoli into large florets. Drop into a pot of boiling salted water and cook for about 4-5 minutes, until just beginning to be tender. Drain the broccoli and set aside.

3. Make a white sauce by melting the butter in a heavy saucepan, adding the flour when the butter starts to bubble. Stir the flour for a couple of minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour and whisk in the milk. Keep whisking to prevent it from scorching on the bottom of the pan. When it is thickened and bubbly, remove it from the heat and add the seasonings and most of the cheese. Keep some back to sprinkle on the top later. 

4. Butter a gratin dish or other shallow ovenproof pan. Spread the broccoli in the pan and pour the cheese sauce over it. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. You may also strew bread crumbs on top of the sauce if you wish.

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 or 25-30 at 375, or until the top of the casserole is browned. 

 

* I prefer to use gruyere and parmesan combined, although cheddar is my husband’s favorite.

 

 

 

 


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ginger-crust_pumpkin_swirl_cheesecake

I love this recipe for pumpkin cheesecake. It’s pretty, it’s rich, and it’s always a crowd pleaser. However, I never, ever fix it for Thanksgiving dinner. Why? It’s too rich, that’s why. With all the other goodies I serve at the Thanksgiving Feast (turkey, dressing, my famous make-ahead gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole with the candied pecans around the top, cranberry/strawberry salad, peas, balsamic roasted vegetables, rolls and butter, pecan pie), I would rather have the traditional pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream. 

Any other time of the year, I’m game for whipping up the pumpkin cheesecake. I’m a sucker for cheesecakes, anyway. Key lime cheesecakes are probably my favorite, especially the two layer one I often fix in the summer because it’s so doggone refreshing! 

The pumpkin swirl cheesecake has my vote as one of the best autumn or winter desserts to serve for a crowd. The servings can be on the small side because they are so rich and it’s easy to get at least 12-15 servings from a large springform pan.  It’s a make-ahead dish, so it’s perfect for a busy person to prepare a day or two in advance. Go for it. 

By the way, this is a recipe from Philadelphia (AKA Kraft) Cream Cheese

PUMPKIN SWIRL CHEESECAKE

For the crust:

25 Nabisco Ginger snaps, finely crushed (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 c. finely chopped pecans

1/4 c. (half stick) butter, melted

 

For the filling:

4 – 8oz. pkgs. Cream Cheese, softened

1 c. sugar, divided, 3/4 c. and 1/4c,

1 t. vanilla

4 eggs

1 c. canned pumpkin

1 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. nutmeg

dash cloves

 

Oven 325, 300 for a dark pan.

Steps:

1. Mix ginger snap crumbs, pecans and butter; press firmly onto bottom and 1″ up sides of 9″ springform pan.

2. Beat cream cheese with mixer, adding 3/4 c. sugar and vanilla.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition, until well blended.

3. Remove 1 1/2 c. plain batter; place in small bowl.  

4. Stir remaining 1/4 c. sugar, pumpkin and spices into remaining batter; spoon half of the pumpkin batter into crust; top with spoonfuls of  half of the reserved plain batter.  Repeat layers.  Cut through batters with knife several times for swirl effect.

5. Bake 55 minutes or until center is almost set. (It will jiggle a little when moved.) 

6. Cool completely on rack.  Run a knife around the sides but do not remove the sides until the cheesecake has cooled. Then remove the sides and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight before serving.  Store leftovers covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for a few days. 

 

Serves 16

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Soup’s On!

In the autumn, I automatically am drawn to making soup, especially hearty ones. Give me a recipe with beans, pork, onions, lots of garlic and a potato or two and I’m good to go. A week ago I made soup with potatoes, sausage, beer and cheddar cheese. It was delicious. No beans in it, but it was still good.

I love lentil soup. I make it a few times each year and always make too much of it. I tried to save it by freezing it but the lentils were too mushy when I thawed the soup and reheated it. I won’t do that again. I guess I’ll have to discipline myself to make only a half recipe or give half of it away. 

The best recipe for lentil soup that I ever found was from Cooking Light magazine. I have a love/hate relationship with Cooking Light. I have been disappointed in about half of the recipes I tried from that magazine and enjoyed about half. I suppose that’s not a bad ratio, but the disappointing recipes were very disappointing and some of the ones I enjoyed were “doctored up” by me and not followed exactly as written. However, this one for lentil soup was followed exactly and I was very pleased with it and therefore recommend it with no reservations. 

Read the ingredient list carefully before you start to make it. It calls for fresh dill and I wouldn’t try substituting dried, if I were you. 

 

BEST LENTIL SOUP (from Cooking Light magazine)

2 T. olive oil

1 1/2 c. chopped onion

1/2 c. chopped celery

1/2 c. chopped carrot

2 garlic cloves, minced

5 1/2 c. water (or combination of water and chicken broth)*

1 1/2 c. dried lentils

2 T. chopped fresh dill, divided

2 bay leaves

1 dried red chile pepper (if you only have red pepper flakes, use those, to taste)

1 – 8 oz. can tomato sauce

1 T. balsamic vinegar

3/4 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper 

3/4 c. (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic; cook 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring frequently.

Add water, dried lentils, 1 tablespoon dill, bay leaves, chile, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon dill, vinegar, salt, and black pepper; discard bay leaves and chile. Sprinkle with cheese.

*I sometimes use the combination 4 c. broth and 1 1/2 c. water. I also sometimes add some cubed ham or sliced polish sausage.

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Halloween has passed us by, leaving candy-jaded palates and shriveled up old jack-o-lanterns by the wayside. After one week, our jack-o-lantern, which sat atop a lamppost covered with a sheet, looked as if he had sucked on a lemon. His face had turned in on itself and he was relegated to the trash pronto. My remaining stash of candy will follow post-haste.

However, we still see pumpkins and other squash varieties in the markets and the thought of the warm, earthy, delicious taste of these vegetables whets my appetite. We made pumpkin french toast and it was delicious. No special recipe needed – for four servings, just add a half-cup or so of canned pumpkin puree to your egg and milk mixture along with 1/3 cup sugar and a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg) and cook as you normally would. I plan to fix a pumpkin soup later this week and will provide the recipe when I do. Pumpkin pancakes will be on our breakfast menu this weekend, served with real maple syrup, not the fake stuff.

I have a butternut squash sitting on the counter. I will peel, cube and roast it next week as a side dish to a pork tenderloin I’m planning to stuff with dried fruit. An acorn squash also awaits my attention. 

Fall also gives us the opportunity to savor the unique tastes of the many root vegetables available. I have selected a few recipes using parsnips, one of the vegetables that I neglect, unfortunately. We enjoyed one this week, and will be having another one next week. 

The recipe I followed this week was found in the September, 2008, issue of Southern Living. The accompanying photograph of the dish caught my eye and as soon as I saw that parsnips were included, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. We both thought it was a great dish, and one that can be adapted in a few ways. It calls for chicken, but would work just as well with pork chops. I followed the recipe with only two exceptions. First, I did not use the “skin-on” boneless chicken breasts called for; I used “skinless” boneless breasts. Also, it called for whole wheat flour for dusting the chicken. I used white flour.

I found the pan sauce delicious, but a bit skimpy. next time I make this, I may double the amounts of shallots, and Marsala.

 

CHICKEN BREASTS WITH STEAM-ROASTED PARSNIPS, LEEKS, AND THYME

Thanks to Southern Living, September, 2008

Serves 4

1 medium leek

1 pound parsnips, peeled, cored, and sliced into spears

2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, divided

4 4-oz. boneless, skin-on chicken breasts

1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 T. whole-wheat flour

3 T. olive oil, divided

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 c. dry Marsala, Madeira, sherry or white wine (or water)

2 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 T. low-sodium soy sauce

Fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish

 

1. Cut leek lengthwise and wash carefully. Thinly slice white part crosswise and discard greens. Place leek, parsnips and half of the thyme leaves in a microwave-safe dish with 1/4 c. water. Cover and microwave on high until easily pierced with a fork, about 5 minutes. Drain, toss and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay chicken, skin-side down, on waxed paper on a hard surface; cover with another layer of waxed paper. Pound to an even thickness of 1/2 inch to facilitate even cooking. In a shallow dish, mix remaining thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper with flour; dredge both sides of chicken.

3. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil to parsnips, leeks, and thyme; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Place in top third of oven and roast for 15 minutes.

4. Coat a 12-inch skillet with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, but not smoking, place chicken breasts in pan, skin-side down, and brown for 2-3 minutes. (Do not move; they’ll release easily once browned.) Turn and brown other side, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, cover, and keep warm. 

5. Reduce pan heat to medium-low and add shallots and garlic. Saute for 1-2 minutes, until soft. Increase heat to medium-high and add Marsala or other liquid, scraping up brown bits. When liquid reduces by half (about 1 minute), whisk in parsley and soy sauce.

6. Remove chicken skin. Surround chicken with parsnip mixture and top with pan sauce. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.

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